Want to Try on a Job for Size? Think Internships!
For some, the path to a job starts with an internship, which can be a great way to build experience, establish contacts and "try a job on for size." Especially in a field like corporate responsibility, where the focus is relatively new, positions are few and interest is beginning to grow. You can hold internships during the school year, during vacations or after you graduate. Because they are often unpaid, internships may be much easier to land than paying jobs.
This is also the great downside to internships: many of them do not offer more than a small stipend. This means that sometimes they are less accessible to those who must spend their summers earning money for college, or for those whose parents cannot afford to help them financially.
If you face this problem, you’ll have to think of creative solutions. You can try to earn college credit for your internship, so that it might at least cut down on your academic expenses. Your college might offer loans and grants to finance summer internships. You might also try writing letters to foundations who support student environmental endeavors. In your letter, describe the project you hope to accomplish during your internship, and ask if the foundation will support it. Your college career counselors might have tips on finding such funds.
You can also try to stagger your internship with a more lucrative job—you could spend, say, two days a week during the summer at an environmental nonprofit, working for free, and four days a week working at a retail job, earning money. If your summers must be entirely devoted to money-making work, try to squeeze an internship into the academic year on odd mornings when you don’t have class, activities or a part-time job. It will make your schedule more hectic, but it might be worth your while.
If you can find a way to do them, internships or other volunteer endeavors can be a splendid way to learn what real-world environmental work is like. They also demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm to future employers. When evaluating applicants for jobs, Robert Freudenberg at the Regional Plan Association (see a typical Day in his Life), for example, takes into account internships and volunteer activities that demonstrate the applicant is publicly engaged, and has taken the initiative to work in the community or with public officials.
Internships can even help you get your foot in the door of an otherwise very competitive employer, and might also lead to paying jobs down the line. For instance, an internship or volunteer position at a national park is not only a great way to see if National Park Service work is right for you, but it will give you a boost if you later choose to apply for a seasonal or permanent position in the agency, according to Park Ranger Joshua Boles. (The National Park Service provides a small stipend for interns and may also provide housing, while volunteer positions are unpaid.)
Whether you intern at a park, a business or a nonprofit, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity being offered to you. Conduct yourself professionally, be assertive and take on as much responsibility as you can competently handle. By making a great impression, you increase your chance of getting a sterling recommendation letter that will open doors down the line. (In fact, it's a good idea to ask for a recommendation letter before you leave an internship so that you can keep it on file should you ever need it.) If you're extremely lucky, you might even get a job offer from the organization you're interning for.
Finally, remember that internships are not all about the work; they are also about learning. So ask lots of questions, request to get exposed to different areas and invite your superiors to a brown-bag lunch, where you can pepper them with questions about their career paths. Remember that the organization is getting free or cheap labor from you; in exchange, you should extract as much information and mentorship as you can.